TMH Living Well: Knowing the signs of lung problems

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During the day, we often notice our physical body’s aches and pains, or if we are clear-headed or tired, and more. Rarely do we stop and notice our lungs, yet along with our heart they are in constant motion — working whether we feel good or not.

Take a moment and celebrate your healthy lungs. Millions of people live with lung diseases.

If you are experiencing breathing problems, know that there are solutions to common lung diseases as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, asbestosis, restrictive airways conditions from tumors, inflammation or scarring, cystic fibrosis and allergies.

Symptoms people notice when they have a possible lung disease are shortness of breath, chronic cough, chronic mucus production, chest pain, wheezing and coughing up blood, according to the American Lung Association.

When people come in to see their doctor for chronic, ongoing symptoms, the doctor will often order a pulmonary function test — a series of different procedures that measure lung function. The Memorial Hospital offers pulmonary function tests by registered respiratory therapists.

“Certain diseases cause lungs to do certain things. For example, cystic fibrosis creates stiff lungs, which makes taking in oxygen difficult. With COPD and emphysema, people experience ‘floppy lungs’ — lungs with no elasticity that makes it difficult to exhale normally and causes people to struggle to breathe,” said Anessa Kopsa, RRT, CPFT, AE-C, respiratory therapist with TMH.

Pulmonary function tests tell doctors how well your lungs are working, and pinpoint the exact loss of function. Technically, the tests measure the volume of air that your lungs can hold, the rate of airflow into and out of your lungs and the gas exchange between your lungs and your blood.

“At TMH we perform pulmonary function tests, along with a spirometry test that measures how quickly air is inhaled and exhaled from the lungs,” Kopsa said.

A spirometer is used in conjunction with the PFT. The patient uses a mouthpiece to perform several breathing exercises. Sometimes, a bronchodilator is given to see if there is improvement with a secondary test.

The tests are performed in a dedicated testing room at TMH. They take approximately an hour to an hour and a half, and doctors receive results in three to five days. The tests are primarily used for diagnosing lung disease, but they also measure how well breathing medicines and therapies are working. A registered respiratory therapist performs the PFT, and testing is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We ask patients to abstain from coffee and oral steroids eight hours before a test because coffee is a natural bronchodilator,” Kopsa said.

If you have been experiencing chronic breathing problems, it might be time to see your doctor. There are several different treatments for lung diseases, including medicines. Bronchodilators are used to expand bronchial air passages and inhaled steroids work to reduce inflammation in the lungs. Oxygen therapy is another potential solution provided by respiratory therapists like Kospa.

For more information on respiratory therapy services at TMH, visit www.thememorialhospital.com and select respiratory therapy from a list of services, or call 970-826-2210.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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